Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ayles Ice Shelf Collapse

Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic

Montreal: A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada`s Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada`s remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake.

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada`s Arctic...

Using US and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland (head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa) discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It`s pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it`s all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent`s team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere`s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We`re losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meat and the New York Times

Editorial in the New York Times. (I think that a lot more people could easily eat a lot less meat - contrary to what they suggest.)

Meat and the Planet

Published: December 27, 2006
When you think about the growth of human population over the last century or so, it is all too easy to imagine it merely as an increase in the number of humans. But as we multiply, so do all the things associated with us, including our livestock. At present, there are about 1.5 billion cattle and domestic buffalo and about 1.7 billion sheep and goats. With pigs and poultry, they form a critical part of our enormous biological footprint upon this planet.

Just how enormous was not really apparent until the publication of a new report, called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Consider these numbers. Global livestock grazing and feed production use “30 percent of the land surface of the planet.” Livestock — which consume more food than they yield — also compete directly with humans for water. And the drive to expand grazing land destroys more biologically sensitive terrain, rain forests especially, than anything else.

But what is even more striking, and alarming, is that livestock are responsible for about 18 percent of the global warming effect, more than transportation’s contribution. The culprits are methane — the natural result of bovine digestion — and the nitrogen emitted by manure. Deforestation of grazing land adds to the effect.

There are no easy trade-offs when it comes to global warming — such as cutting back on cattle to make room for cars. The human passion for meat is certainly not about to end anytime soon. As “Livestock’s Long Shadow” makes clear, our health and the health of the planet depend on pushing livestock production in more sustainable directions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Going with the Flow

"The Climate Is Changing And I Have To Change Along With It"

Hecate writes: I won't hate the warming planet. I won't cry over the lost plants. I will love this Earth in whatever stage she finds herself, however she changes, whatever she does to try and balance things out.

I don't want to find myself - like some people that I notice - who want to pretend that it makes no difference what they do. They intend to consume as much as ever. On the other hand - it can be depressing to see extreme changes and death and destruction to species. New species are found, others are lost. Some will be lost before they are ever found (by people).

It is amazing to think that in my life are such catastrophic changes as the Arctic Ice melting. Every day there are more and more stories about how odd it is - how warm so far into December. Plants blooming all over the place. I always hate it when plants bloom too early and then don't bloom in the spring. The fruit trees were all in bloom the first time we saw the house where we live now. But in the few years since then - it has been sporadic, at best.

But Hecate is right - if you love nature - you love it - even when there are upheavals. Going with the flow.

"As for middle-class women..."

"As for middle-class women, some ardently took up the cause of liberty, such as Mme Roland and Lucile Desmoulins. One of them who had a profound influence on the course of events was Charlotte Corday when she assassinated Marat. There was some feminist agitation. Olympe de Gouges proposed in 1789 a "Declaration of the Rights of Woman," equivalent to the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," in which she asked that all masculine privilege be abolished; but she perishes before long on the scaffold."

The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir

See also:


I Blame the Patriarchy

The "rules":

1. Go to the nearest book in your reach and turn to page 123.
2. Go to the fifth sentence of the book.
3. Copy the next three sentences... (or 4, if you can't stop at 3)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Concern over Europe 'snow crisis'" (lack of snow)


Ski resorts across the European Alps are becoming increasingly worried as current bad snow conditions threaten the all important Christmas holiday period.

This autumn has been one of the worst on record with high temperatures and little snowfall....

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that many low-level resorts could soon be unviable and predicted warmer temperatures in the future.

Already banks are refusing to offer loans to resorts under 1,500 metres as they fear for their future snow cover. Germany is threatened the most, followed by some Austrian and Italian resorts....


Temperatures in Moscow sank to minus 29C this time last year
Nobody knows what to make of it. This is the middle of December in a country known for the severity of its winters.

There's not a snowflake to be seen.

Red Square should be covered in white by now. It's not. Its cobblestones are as stubbornly damp and grey as the skies overhead.

There would normally be ice on the Moskva River. There's none...

It is not just the people who are confused. Russia's wildlife is not sure what time of year it is. Hibernation has been put off.

"The brown bears are half-asleep," says Natalia Istratova, a spokeswoman for Moscow Zoo. "They haven't gone into their dens yet."

Snakes and other reptiles have yet to move to their winter quarters. Traditional winter pastimes of skiing and ice-fishing have had to wait.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


We have a big, old, dead tree in our yard that often has crows hanging around in it. Or at least in the summer you'll often see them there.

I never really thought about where they were when they weren't here - but there is a good chance that they go to Terre Haute.

Terre Haute is about 45-50 miles away - and in the winter - that is where the crows go. There is reported to be app. 58,000 of them there this winter.

The birds like areas such as Terre Haute that are surrounded by farmland where they can find food, said Kevin McGowan, with the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Cities also provide lighting and are warmer than rural areas.

According the Wabash Valley Audubon Society: The crows roost in the city from December to March, which coincides with the crow hunting season (late) in Indiana (Indiana's 2006-2007 Hunting Season). So, crows may be coming into the city to avoid hunters. Crows are the only Indiana "game" animal with no daily limit.

But according to another article - there is also a crow season in July and August - so that doesn't really explain it. I think they just like it there. One article compared it to college students going to Panama City. And that may be as close as anything.

In recent years, Terre Haute’s crow population was the third highest in North America, according to the annual Christmas Bird Count by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

""America Loses Another War..."

"Iraq: a shameful ass-whupping, or just a pathetic trouncing? Ugly disgrace? Choices, choices"

By Mark Morford

The good news is, we're all back in harmony. All back on the same page. No more divisiveness and no more silly bickering and no more nasty and indignant red state/blue state rock throwing because we're finally all back in cozy let's-hug-it-out agreement: The "war" in Iraq is over. And what's more, we lost. Very, very badly

...What's left is one lingering, looming question: How do we accept defeat? How do we deal with the awkward, identity-mauling, ego-stomping idea that, once again, America didn't "win" a war it really had no right to launch in the first place? After all, isn't this the American slogan: "We may not always be right, but we are never wrong"?

It's still our most favorite idea, the thing our own childlike president loves to talk most about, burned into our national consciousness like a bad tattoo: We always win. We're the good guys. We're the chosen ones. We're the goddamn cavalry, flying the flag of truth, wrapped in strip malls and Ford pickups and McDonald's franchises. Right?

Wrong. If Vietnam's aftermath proved anything, it's that we are incredibly crappy losers. We deny, we reject, we evade and ignore and refuse responsibility until it becomes so silly and surreal even the staunchest warmonger has to cringe in embarrassment. At this point, it seems nearly impossible for America to accept defeat with anything resembling perspective and dignity and the understanding that maybe, just maybe, we ain't all that saintly and ain't all that perfect and maybe God really isn't necessarily on our side after all, because if God took sides she wouldn't actually be, you know, God....


For more serious information on Iraq see Dahr Jamail's dispatches.

"Castles in the Sand"

I agree with this opinion piece in the New York Times, today.

It sounds like the Army Corps of Engineers/Government approach is to think of coast line development like a diposable paper cup that is used briefly, tossed away, another replaces it, gets tossed away and so on. It serves the interest of developers - but not of the public - nor of the wildlife. I think that any such coastlines - where the developments have been destroyed - should be made into National Parks.


AT this year’s meeting of the Geological Society of America, which took place in Philadelphia in October, representatives of the United States Army Corps of Engineers presented proposals to re-engineer the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Some 200 coastal and marine scientists attended the meeting; most of them were stunned by the scope, expense and sheer wastefulness of the projects the corps is considering.

The corps’ proposals include a large seawall to protect parts of Bay St. Louis on the coast along with storm surge gates, similar to those that the British use on the Thames, to close off local bays. One particularly awe-inspiring proposal calls for reconfiguring the Mississippi Gulf Islands to approximate their circa 1969, pre-Hurricane Camille length and width, while adding sufficient sand to the islands to achieve elevations of roughly 20 feet. These barrier islands are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and include designated wilderness areas. The proposed project would dump an estimated 50 million cubic yards of sand on the national seashore solely to protect redevelopment of the mainland coast.

At the very least, these proposals would cost billions of dollars to realize, aside from the environmental damage that would ensue. Yet as the corps acknowledged at the Geological Society meeting, its proposed “coastal improvements” would not provide protection from the kind of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have destroyed coastal Mississippi twice in the past 37 years. So what, exactly, is the point?

The corps’ failure to devise a rational redevelopment plan points to the futility of trying to maintain coastal development in such an unstable place. A realistic appraisal would conclude that the long-term outlook for coastal development there is bleak. Yet the corps, urged on by developers, seems determined to wage a quixotic fight....Rather than use a creative, flexible approach to redevelopment on a vulnerable, changing coast, the corps is commanding nature to behave itself....

The time has come to step back from this extraordinarily hazardous shoreline, perhaps to replace the blocks of destroyed buildings with rows of protective dunes in a seashore park. We should not rebuild on the shoreline of vulnerable areas like the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We certainly shouldn’t be doing it with federal dollars or destroying a National Seashore in order to provide a false sense of security for redevelopment.

If the corps follows through on its proposals, the United States will once again miss an opportunity to respond sensibly to the threat of global warming.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"World's Largest Landfill Gas Power Plant" (Korea)

The world’s largest landfill gas (LFG) power plant was completed and went into operation in Inchon Tuesday.
The plant is run on the gas that is generated from construction and other garbage buried in the land.

The Ministry of Environment said that the 50 megawatt (MW) plant is expected to reap more than 50 billion won in combined profits a year by selling the electricity, replacing reliance on imported oil for energy and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

About 340,000 MWh’s of electricity will be supplied to more than 180,000 households in the metropolitan area, making 16.9 billion won in profit a year. The electricity supplement will replace 500,000 barrels of heavy oil imported a year, which costs around 20 billion won. Also the plant will reduce 1.37 million tons of greenhouse gas that is produced during the thermal power generation procedure of burning the heavy oil.

Also, the technique is considered a clean development mechanism. If the greenhouse gas reduction is approved by the United Nations, Korea will gain 13.7 billion won worth of certified emission reductions (CERs) in the world gas emission market. The country is now pushing to register the mechanism with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"Revealed: Wonders of the deep"

About 2,000 researchers contributed to the 80-nation "Census of Marine Life". A total of 20 species, from sharks and sea lions to albatrosses, were equipped with satellite tags, while sonar equipment swept the seas for unusual water disturbances, potentially indicating a new phenomenon. Robotic cameras were also used.

THE sighting of eight million fish swarming in a school the size of Manhattan qualified as the most abundant find in the census.

Fish counters making observations off the New Jersey coast used focused sound scans to examine oceanic areas 10,000 times larger than had been previously possible. The scan updates instantaneously, revealing the movements of the island-sized swarms....

TRACKING tagged sooty shearwaters by satellite, census researchers mapped the small birds' 40,000-mile journey searching for food in a giant figure of eight over the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand via Polynesia to Japan, Alaska and California and back.

Making the longest migration ever recorded electronically in only 200 days, the charcoal grey birds averaged a surprising 350km daily.

In some cases, a breeding pair made the entire journey together....

THE hottest thermal vent was discovered 3km below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It is belching out fluids at an unprecedented 407C - a temperature which can easily melt lead.

Scientists want to study the deep-sea eco-system of plants and animals living in a "halo" around the vent, to discover how, surrounded by near-freezing water, their chemistry allows them to withstand heat pulses that approach boiling point - up to 80C.

Shrimps, mussels and clams were seen on the walls of the vent chimney....

"SLOAN the squid", a new species capable of chewing its own food, was found by deep-sea investigators in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Sloan (Promachoteuthis sloani) was among 80,000 organisms - covering 354 families, genera and species - found. It has become the reference specimen for the new species....

THE richest find in terms of biodiversity was 20,000 forms of bacteria in a single litre of sea water.

Microbe hunters took samples from the Atlantic and Pacific, including from an eruptive fissure 1,500 metres deep on a seamount in the Pacific.

DNA studies showed most of the different kinds of bacteria were unknown and likely to be rare globally....

THE deepest sampling in the census took place 5km below the surface of the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic.

Experts from 14 nations caught rare, but diverse, zooplankton living in the ocean's deepest depths, in a sophisticated net called the Mocness....

CENSUS-takers in the Southern Ocean discovered a unique and astonishing community of marine life shrouded beneath 700m of ice, about 200km from open water.

During three lengthy cruises, sampling yielded more new than familiar species.

Among the scores of species found was a rare jellyfish, possibly cosmetirella davisi, which was filmed swimming with its tentacles raised....

THE oldest creature found by census seamount researchers was a shrimp believed to have become extinct around 50 million years ago.

The female creature was found alive and well 400 metres under the sea on an underwater peak during an expedition to the Chesterfield Islands, north-west of New Caledonia.

Neoglyphea neocaledonica was nicknamed "Jurassic shrimp" by its discoverers. It is about 5in long and has been described as "halfway between a shrimp and a mud lobster"....

Arctic Ice

There is a news story out suggesting that the rate of the Arctic ice melting is faster than anticipated. "Ice at North Pole could be gone by 2040, scientists warn - Dire news on global warming as Geophysical Union meets in S.F."

(Apparently some people had been holding out for 2080 or 2100).

I did a search and noticed that an article I put up in August - from Edmonton - suggested there may only be a couple of decades - which put the date at more like 2036 or so then. Maybe these scientists are just catching up. It was quite a warm summer and fall - so maybe the earlier prediction no longer seems so far fetched.


From the new article:

Sea ice that for centuries has covered much of the High Arctic has been shrinking at a record pace due to global warming, and as winter began last month in the oceans surrounding the North Pole, larger stretches of open water remained free of ice than ever before, climate scientists reported Monday.

The extent of Arctic sea ice is a key signal of the world's warming rate, and its effects are widespread: Immensely valuable fisheries shift from the coasts of one continent to another, algae and plankton disappear in some areas and increase in others, Arctic wildlife becomes endangered, and torrents of fresh water from melting ice alter the salinity of seas far to the south.

Where only a few months ago experts were predicting that if the present rate of warming continues unchecked there could be no sea ice left in the Arctic by the end of this century, the latest climate calculations indicate the seas there could well be totally ice-free by 2040, the specialists warned.

The latest assessment of global warming and its effects came at the opening of the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in San Francisco, where more than 15,000 scientists are gathering at Moscone Center this week to present new data from their research in topics as varied as earthquakes, weather, oceanography and space research....

With Arctic air temperatures increasing more rapidly than ever before, sea ice diminishing, permafrost thawing, and trees and shrubs increasing across the tundra, a "tipping point" when the changes become irreversible may well be at hand, said Larry Hinzman of the University of Alaska.

The "tipping point" is manifest in the rapid decrease of the Arctic's sea ice cover, according to Mark Serreze of the Snow and Ice Data Center. Satellites in 2005 measured the smallest extent of sea ice ever recorded, he said, and after the summer melt period, the ice returned at the slowest rate ever.

This year is even more alarming, Serreze said. Although the extent of sea ice was not as limited as it was in 2005, he said, by the end of last November, satellite measurements showed that the ice had failed to extend as widely as the previous year and was more than 772 square miles shy of its average extent, he said.

In 20 years, Serreze said, the extent of Arctic sea ice will be reduced by 80 percent. "And that could be another tipping point. It is no longer recovering as it should, and if it reaches a critical level, it may never recover at all."

Monday, December 11, 2006

"How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"

At Grist "is a complete listing of the articles in "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic," a series by Coby Beck containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming." All sorted by topics.

(Click on the title of this post to get there.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Are Humans Totally Stupid? "

"Either we're hell-bent on self-destruction, or we truly care about the planet. Or, you know, both..."

By Mark Morford

They say that when gas prices drop, SUV sales surge.
Conversely, they say that when gas prices jump above three bucks a gallon and hover there for a while and everyone is slapped upside the head once again with the painful and obvious reminder that oh yeah we are in the midst of a brutal and losing war over waning petroleum deposits and we are heating up the planet like maniac monkeys and we are really really not paying close enough attention to what all those hurricanes and eroded glaciers and crying trees are trying to tell us, well, that's when our conscience finally kicks in and more people consider buying a Prius and maybe an organic salad, just in case.

It's just incredibly easy, in this painful, tragicomic age of Bush, to take the pessimist's view and think we are, as evidenced by the rather dimwitted formula above, simple as rocks. Stupid, even. Ignorant, reactionary, shortsighted as a Republican rubbing himself with a wad of tobacco lobbyist cash. Is it not obvious?

In other words, it's incredibly easy to believe, given the current planetary circumstances, that we really just don't give much of a damn, that simple decision-making equations like the above prove that we are a rather thoughtless species, reacting only to the most primitive of market forces while remaining hell-bent on serving our most immediate needs and screw the planet and screw the long view and screw what kind of burned-up oil-depleted storm-ridden water-deprived world your kids will be facing in a mere 25 years, just save me a few bucks on a tank of Saudi gas and let's call it an environment.

Sure we care, but we don't really care. Not enough to make significant or permanent change, not enough to radically refocus our agenda to a degree that might affect our mall-addicted oil-bloated American lifestyles. Buy a hybrid when gas prices soar? Pure economics, for most. Saves a few citizens from emphysema and removes a few million pounds of toxic chemicals from the air and hence in 2004 alone Prius drivers did the job of 9,478,000 trees? Just a bonus, really.

It's an ongoing and eternal question spawned of the jaded, pessimistic spirit: Just how stupidly self-destructive are we? How much longer can we possibly survive before we simply consume and waste and blow ourselves to smithereens? After all, the experts tell us that every culture prior to ours -- that is, all those that eventually turned into gluttonous warmongering insanely wasteful empires -- they all imploded. Every single one. Wiped themselves out, burned themselves up, abused their resources to death. Put it this way: If history is any lesson at all, we are just incredibly, deliciously doomed....

Al Gore was on "Oprah" recently, doing his "Inconvenient Truth" thing. Oprah herself extolled everyone in the "Oprah" universe to buy and watch Gore's DVD. This is powerful. This is the mainstreaming of a very big idea. Will it make a difference? Will anyone really care? Sure they will. Global warming is in the news more than ever and people sense there's a severe problem and no matter what the naysayers and the idiot skeptics and the pasty enviro-hating Republican Congressmen say, people just know. They get it. Storms and hurricanes and bizarre heat waves and glaciers gone? Something's amiss and it ain't just Mother Nature's menopause. Are those big smokestacks really any different than giant cigarettes, jammed into nature's mouth? Nope. You just gotta learn to see it that way.

(As it is Morford shares the page with a bunch of car advertisements).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No Snow for Austrian Biathlon

For the Austrian village of Hochfilzen it was a disaster. As it prepared to welcome the world's best cross-country skiers and shooters for a biathlon event this weekend there was a problem: no snow.

With climate experts confirming that the Alps are in the grip of the warmest temperatures for 1,300 years villagers borrowed some snow from a nearby mountain, trucking in snow from Grossglockner, Austria's highest peak, 20 miles away. Over five days lorries deposited the snow in the village, allowing a 6-metre wide by 45cm deep (20ft x 17inch) track.

"There's normally snow here. Unfortunately this year it didn't arrive in time," Martin Frieder, the town's tourist office spokesman said, adding: "Last winter we had 8.7 metres of snow."

An unseasonably warm autumn has wreaked havoc in Alpine ski resorts, postponing the winter season in Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Instead of snow all around, most slopes are still covered in green grass.

Yesterday climate experts confirmed that the warm temperatures - including 22.4C recorded last week in Grenoble, the capital of the French Alps - were unusual.

"We are experiencing the warmest period in the Alpine region in 1,300 years," said Reinhard Böhm, a climatologist at Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics. "It will undoubtedly get warmer in the future."

The lack of snow has also affected ski resorts further afield, with all 31 skiing areas in Spain and Andorra closed, said the newspaper El País.

Andrea Händel, of the German Alpine Association in Munich, said it is too warm for artificial snow machines to work. Snow is now forecast within days.

"Massive fish kill confirmed"

NATIONAL environment authorities have confirmed the death of more than 450,000 kilograms of fish in two eastern China's cities in August was a result of pollution after a neighboring province opened a sluice to release sewage and industrial waste water.

So far no scheme on how to compensate the fishermen suffering the loss has been finalized, an Anhui Province-based newspaper reported yesterday.

On August 29, Yongcheng County in central China's Henan Province, which is in the upriver area of Anhui's Huaibei and Suzhou cities, opened its Zhangqiao sluice to release water after industrial waste and sewage had been stored for a long time.

The polluted water flooded the downriver Huaibei's Tuohe River and Suzhou's Xinbian River, killing the large number of fish in the two rivers, the report said.

Local fishermen report more than 450,000 kilograms of fish died in the pollution.

Preliminary estimates showed the pollution resulted in financial losses of more than three million yuan (US$375,000).

New Study on Effects to Phytoplankton

A new study of the oceans suggests that phytoplankton -- the vital first link in the food chain of the seas -- will be hugely affected by global warming.

Fisheries in the tropics and mid-latitudes could be badly hit by the loss of these micro-organisms as a result of warmer waters, the paper implies.

Phytoplankton grow in the upper layers of the ocean, needing light as well as nitrogen, phosphate and iron to grow. These nutrients come from the cold deep ocean, and are brought to the surface by currents.

Oregon State University botanist Michael Behrenfeld and colleagues pored over nearly a decade's-worth of satellite data to see how these tiny, unsung plants of the ocean surface respond to shifts in temperature.

The NASA satellite SeaWiFS uses sensors to record light that is reflected back by the ocean. Banks of phytoplankton can be spotted because they contain chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue parts of the light spectrum.

Behrenfeld's "map" of phytoplankton found that the mass underwent two big changes over the study period.

In 1997-98, phytoplankton increased, matching a period when the El Nino effect was in reverse and the seas were relatively colder. Production of phytoplankton then declined from 1999 to 2004 as El Nino went back into an extended warming cycle. There was then a rise from 2005 to 2006.

The scientists say the results clearly link the sea's surface temperature with the abundance of phytoplankton, and thus provide an excellent indicator of what could happen in a warming climate.

Their paper appears in Thursday's issue of Nature, the weekly British science journal.

...In the future, higher temperatures and an influx of fresh water from precipitation and melting ice may help dampen the currents, which would thus spur phytoplankton growth...

"Ecosystems are complex and nonlinear... and unexpected phenomena may arise as we push the planet into this unknown climate state," said Doney.

Phytoplankton are not just an essential first link in the food chain on which other ocean lifeforms depend.

They also absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis -- so any disruption to this process could accelerate the climate-change mechanism.

Roughly 100 million tonnes of carbon are gobbled up each day by phytoplankton, according to the Behrenfeld study.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Signs of Energy"

(Editorial in today's New York Times)

It seemed to take forever, but the Bush administration has finally agreed to a strict timetable for establishing new energy efficiency standards for nearly two dozen commercial and residential appliances over the next five years. The agreement is good news for the environment. It is also a tribute to the persistence of 15 states, the Natural Resources Defense Council and various consumer groups that sued the Energy Department for failing to comply with longstanding Congressional mandates.

By some estimates, the new standards — covering items like dishwashers, ovens, clothes dryers, and heating and air-conditioning systems — could eventually save the amount of energy used by 12 million households, eliminate the need to build dozens of power plants and significantly cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

Congress ordered the Energy Department to make periodic updates in efficiency standards for appliances as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. The Clinton administration strengthened standards for 10 appliances. But no new standards have been issued since 2001. In 2004, under pressure from manufacturers, the Bush administration actually tried to weaken standards for commercial air-conditioners, only to be rebuked by the courts.

In some cases, the technology already exists to meet stronger standards; the trick is to get manufacturers to incorporate them across the board. In other cases, the new standards would drive technology forward.

Tomma Abts wins the Turner Prize 2006

It's only the third time a woman has won in its twenty two year history. Abts's work is deliberately modest - paintings on canvas always nineteen inches by fifteen....

Working consistently within the small portrait frame of 48x38cm, Abts' art is characterised by abstract geometric shapes and numerous layers of paint, repetitively worked at to achieve a depth in her work that is both physically and expressively driven.

Such tensions are the essence of her paintings which are regarded as struggling between illusion and reality and the artist enjoys the uncertainty that these responses bring.

"I work inside- out, so to say, and the shapes are almost negative shapes," she says.

"I start with nothing really, I make no sketches before I start the painting, I work directly onto the canvas," Abts says.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

....can now be seen online (click on the title).

Of course it's better to buy or rent it - but it is something that everyone should see somehow or other.

"Over 1,000 dead or missing in Philippine mudslides"

The Red Cross sent out an urgent plea for water, food and medicine Monday as Philippine officials said more than 1,000 people were dead or missing after mudslides swallowed whole villages.

The government's National Disaster Coordinating Centre (NDCC) in its evening report Monday confirmed 450 dead from the mudslides around Mayon volcano triggered by typhoon rains.

It listed a further 599 people as missing in the rest of the Bicol region.

Executive officer Glenn Rabonza said more than one million people had been affected by the disaster, with damage to property alone estimated at about 274 million pesos (5.53 million dollars).

The deadly mudslides were triggered by torrential rains from super typhoon Durian, which mixed with volcanic ash on the slopes of the Mayon volcano...

Meanwhile - "Indonesian 'mud volcano' could flow for years"

It could be years before a massive "mud volcano" which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes stops flowing, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said on Monday.
A gas well near Surabaya in East Java operated by Lapindo Brantas Inc. has spewed steaming mud since May, submerging villages, industries and agricultural land.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared the area a disaster zone after the "mud volcano" inundated more than 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of land in Sidoarjo district and displaced some 13,000 people.

"As I speak, we have not gotten to the stage that we can stop the flow, so what is assigned to my ministry is to try to prevent further destruction...," Witoelar told a Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club lunch.

"At this moment, if I'm not mistaken, it's close to 200,000 cubic metres a day, it's beyond any pumps or dykes to be contained," he said of the mud flow....

"Throwaway Economy In Trouble"

"One of the distinctly unhealthy economic trends over the last half-century has been the emergence of a throwaway economy," writes Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute, in his book Plan B 2.0. (Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble )First conceived following World War II as a way of providing consumers with products, it soon came to be seen also as a vehicle for creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be.

What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus we have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable paper towels for hand towels, disposable table napkins for cloth ones, and throwaway beverage containers for refillable ones. Even the shopping bags we use to carry home throwaway products become part of the garbage flow.

The throwaway economy is on a collision course with the earth's geological limits. Aside from running out of landfills near cities, the world is also fast running out of the cheap oil that is used to manufacture and transport throwaway products. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is not enough readily accessible lead, tin, copper, iron ore, or bauxite to sustain the throwaway economy beyond another two or three generations. Assuming an annual 2-percent growth in extraction, U.S. Geological Survey data on current economically recoverable reserves show the world has 18 years of reserves remaining for lead, 20 years for tin, 25 years for copper, 64 years for iron ore, and 69 years for bauxite.

The cost of hauling garbage from cities is rising as nearby landfills fill up and the price of oil climbs. One of the first major cities to exhaust its locally available landfills was New York. When the Fresh Kills landfill, the local destination for New York's garbage, was permanently closed in March 2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to landfill sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even Virginia - with some of the sites being 300 miles away.

Given the 12,000 tons of garbage produced each day in New York and assuming a load of 20 tons of garbage for each of the tractor-trailers used for the long-distance hauling, some 600 rigs are needed to move garbage from New York City daily. These tractor-trailers form a convoy nearly nine miles long-impeding traffic, polluting the air, and raising carbon emissions. This daily convoy led Deputy Mayor Joseph J. Lhota, who supervised the Fresh Kills shutdown, to observe that getting rid of the city's trash is now "like a military-style operation on a daily basis."

...The challenge is to replace the throwaway economy with a reduce-reuse-recycle economy. For cities like New York, the challenge should be less what to do with the garbage and more of how to avoid producing it in the first place.

"Flowers in Alps, Bears Can't Sleep as Winter Waits"

Flowers are blooming on the slopes of Alpine ski resorts and bears are having trouble hibernating in Siberia amid a late start to winter that may be a portent of global warming.

Rare December pollen is troubling asthma sufferers as far north as Scandinavia, sales of winter clothing are down and Santa Claus is having to reassure children his sleigh will take off on Christmas Eve, snow or no snow.

From Ottawa to Moscow, temperatures have been way above average at the start of the winter in the northern hemisphere -- with exceptions including a rare snowstorm in Dallas, Texas.

Like many places, Austria has had the mildest autumn since records began and many ski resorts have delayed the season's start. Snow cannons are idling on green slopes that would usually be pistes, shrinking the billion-dollar winter business.

"The mountain peaks are shining white -- but not white enough that we can expect skiers to go there," said Martin Ebster, tourism director of St. Anton in the Arlberg ski resort, which postponed the season start to next weekend.

Meteorologists have recorded the azure trumpet-shaped Alpine gentian flower as high as 1,100 metres (3,609 ft) in the Austrian Alps, and the vernal forsythia in some valleys.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Botswana 'Snake Rock' - Stone Age religion

Carvings about 70,000 years old on a snake-like rock in a cave in Botswana indicate that Stone Age people developed religious rituals far earlier than previously believed, a researcher said on Thursday.

Ancestors of Botswana's San people apparently ground away at a natural outcrop about 2 metres high and 6 metres long (6 by 20 ft) to heighten its similarity to a python's head and body, said Sheila Coulson, an associate professor at Oslo University.
"We believe this is the earliest archaeological proof of religion," Coulson, a Canadian expert in Stone Age tools, told Reuters of findings made during a trip in mid-2006 to the Tsolido Hills in northwestern Botswana.

The previous oldest archaeological evidence of religious worship is about 40,000 years old from European caves. The Botswana find bolsters evidence that modern humans originated in Africa, along with religion and culture.

Coulson said the python-like rock had 300-400 carved indentations. In flickering firelight, the patterns might have seemed like scales and given the impression of movement to the rock as part of some sacred rite.

Scores of carved stone items, including 115 points and 22 burnt red spearheads, were abandoned on the floor of the cave beneath the snake-like rock. Many had been brought more than 200 km (125 miles) across the Kalahari Desert.

"The snake symbol runs through all the mythologies, stories, cultures, languages of southern Africa," Coulson said. The cave, with a floor of 26 square metres (280 sq ft), was not known to archaeologists until the 1990s.

In San mythology, humankind descended from a python, and ancient streambeds nearby were believed to have been created by a shake slithering around the hills in search of water....

At the back of the Botswanan cave was a well-worn chamber, large enough for a shaman to hide and to speak, perhaps in imitation of a snake.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Pro-Peace Symbol Forces Win...."

Peace is fighting back in Pagosa Springs (Colorado).

Last week, a couple were threatened with fines of $25 a day by their homeowners’ association unless they removed a four-foot wreath shaped like a peace symbol from the front of their house.

The fines have been dropped, and the three-member board of the association has resigned, according to an e-mail message sent to residents on Monday.

Two board members have disconnected their telephones, apparently to escape the waves of callers asking what the board could have been thinking, residents said. The third board member, with a working phone, did not return a call for comment.

In its original letter to the couple, Lisa Jensen and Bill Trimarco, the association said some neighbors had found the peace symbol politically “divisive.”...

In any case, there are now more peace symbols in Pagosa Springs, a town of 1,700 people 200 miles southwest of Denver, than probably ever in its history.

On Tuesday morning, 20 people marched through the center carrying peace signs and then stomped a giant peace sign in the snow perhaps 300 feet across on a soccer field, where it could be easily seen.

“There’s quite a few now in our subdivision in a show of support,” Mr. Trimarco said.

A former president of the Loma Linda community, where Mr. Trimarco lives, said Tuesday that he had stepped in to help form an interim homeowners’ association.

The former president, Farrell C. Trask, described himself in a telephone interview as a military veteran who would fight for anyone’s right to free speech, peace symbols included.

Town Manager Mark Garcia said Pagosa Springs was building its own peace wreath, too. Mr. Garcia said it would be finished by late Tuesday and installed on a bell tower in the center of town.

"Sea Change As Plankton Head North"

As reported @ the - DRAMATIC and extraordinary changes in the kinds of plankton living in British waters as a result of climate change are having a profound effect on all marine life, according to a "disturbing" report.

The first "annual report card" by a group of government scientists and leading academics involved in studying the sea, published today, provides an assessment of the state of UK waters. It details rising sea levels, an increase in storms and acidity and a rise in salt levels in surface sea water.

It also reports a major shift in the types of plankton - the fundamental building block of most marine animal life - found off the coast of Britain. Species found off the coast of Brittany 40 years ago have gradually drifted 600 miles north to southern Scotland as seas have warmed.

And warm-water fish, such as tuna and stingrays, appear to be slowly following on behind, while cold-water species such as cod are suffering.

Experts said sea birds, such as guillemots and puffins, might gradually have to move northwards while the decline of the kittiwake, one of Scotland's most common seabirds, which has seen its numbers fall by half over the past 15 years, has been linked to increasing winter temperatures. Meanwhile, numbers of Mediterranean gulls, though small, are increasing in the south of the UK....

Another fear is that the eco-system could become out of sync. One reason for the decline of the cod is believed to be the differing breeding times of plankton. Warmer water plankton breed at a different time of year to colder kinds previously found in UK waters, and when cod larvae hatch, their access to their main source of food is significantly reduced.

Dr David Sims, at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, said a rise in numbers of warm-water species had been noticed over the past 100 years and there was some evidence global warming was hitting traditional fish populations.

"Climate is affecting plankton in a pronounced way and it's likely this will echo through the food chain," he said.


— Majority of Entire EPA Workforce Calls for Regulation of Greenhouse Gases

Washington, DC — In an unprecedented action, representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are calling on Congress to take immediate action against global warming, according to a petition released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The petition also calls for an end to censorship of agency scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.

The petition stresses that time is running out to prevent cataclysmic environmental changes induced by human-caused pollution and urges Congress to undertake prompt actions:

“If we wait, we will be committing the next generation of Americans to approximately double the current global warming concentrations, with the associated adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”

The filing of this petition coincides with today’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on a case (Massachusetts v. EPA, Case No. 05-1120) brought by states seeking to force the Bush administration to regulate greenhouse gases that fuel global warming under the Clean Air Act.

The petition signatories represent more than half of the total agency workforce. Addressed to the members of the Senate and House committees overseeing EPA, the petition argues that:

• The Bush administration strategy of “using primarily voluntary and incentive-based programs” to reduce greenhouse gases is not working nor “has [this approach] been effectively carried out;”
• EPA has abdicated its enforcement responsibilities by “failing to investigate coal-electric plants for technical options to control carbon;” and
• “EPA’s scientists and engineers [must be able] to speak frankly and directly with Congress and the public regarding climate change, without fear of reprisal.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Global Warming Goes to Court"

(Editorial in today's New York Times)

The Bush administration has been on a six-year campaign to expand its powers, often beyond what the Constitution allows. So it is odd to hear it claim that it lacks the power to slow global warming by limiting the emission of harmful gases. But that is just what it will argue to the Supreme Court tomorrow, in what may be the most important environmental case in many years.

A group of 12 states, including New York and Massachusetts, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly do its job. These states, backed by environmental groups and scientists, say that the Clean Air Act requires the E.P.A. to impose limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by new cars. These gases are a major contributor to the “greenhouse effect” that is dangerously heating up the planet.

The Bush administration insists that the E.P.A. does not have the power to limit these gases. It argues that they are not “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Alternatively, it contends that the court should dismiss the case because the states do not have “standing,” since they cannot show that they will be specifically harmed by the agency’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases.

A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A. “shall” set standards for “any air pollutant” that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The word “welfare,” the law says, includes “climate” and “weather.” The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it “shall” do.

Beneath the statutory and standing questions, this is a case about how seriously the government takes global warming. The E.P.A.’s decision was based in part on its poorly reasoned conclusion that there was too much “scientific uncertainty” about global warming to worry about it. The government’s claim that the states lack standing also scoffs at global warming, by failing to acknowledge that the states have a strong interest in protecting their land and citizens against coastal flooding and the other kinds of damage that are being projected.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, climate scientists from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Stanford University and other respected institutions warn that “the scientific evidence of the risks, long time lags and irreversibility of climate change argue persuasively for prompt regulatory action.” The Supreme Court can strike an important blow in defense of the planet simply by ruling that the E.P.A. must start following the law.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Nanotechnology in the News

EPA to regulate form of nanotechnology

Consumer products using extremely small particles of silver to kill germs will need Environmental Protection Agency approval, part of the government's first move to regulate the burgeoning nanotechnology industry.

The EPA said Wednesday it was changing federal policy to require that manufacturers provide scientific evidence that their use of nanosilver won't harm waterways or public health.

Environmentalists and others are concerned that after the material is discarded and enters the environment, it may be killing helpful bacteria and aquatic organisms or even pose a risk to humans.

Nanosilver is used to kill germs in shoe liners, food-storage containers, air fresheners, washing machines and other products.

Silver is among the most common type of nanomaterials marketed to consumers, of which more than 200 now exist, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies... But the EPA doesn't plan to oversee most nanomaterials, which can be as small as one-millionth the width of a head of a pin...

A recent article in "Nature" - (it sounds like these scientists are reluctant to say that there could be problems)

Safe handling of nanotechnology

When the physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman challenged the science community to think small in his 1959 lecture 'There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom', he planted the seeds of a new era in science and technology. Nanotechnology, which is about controlling matter at near-atomic scales to produce unique or enhanced materials, products and devices, is now maturing rapidly with more than 300 claimed nanotechnology products already on the market. Yet concerns have been raised that the very properties of nanostructured materials that make them so attractive could potentially lead to unforeseen health or environmental hazards....

As research leaders in our respective fields, we recognize that systematic risk research is needed if emerging nano-industries are to thrive. We cannot set the international research agenda on our own, but we can inspire the scientific community — including government, industry, academia and other stakeholders — to move in the right direction...

Fears over the possible dangers of some nanotechnologies may be exaggerated, but they are not necessarily unfounded. Recent studies examining the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials in cell cultures and animals have shown that size, surface area, surface chemistry, solubility and possibly shape all play a role in determining the potential for engineered nanomaterials to cause harm. This is not surprising: we have known for many years that inhaled dusts cause disease, and that their harmfulness depends on both what they are made of and their physical nature. For instance, small particles of inhaled quartz lead to lung damage and the potential development of progressive lung disease, yet the same particles with a thin coating of clay are less harmful. Asbestos presents a far more dramatic example: thin, long fibres of the material can lead to lung disease if inhaled, but grind the fibres down to shorter particles with the same chemical make-up and the harmfulness is significantly reduced.

It is generally accepted that, in principle, some nanomaterials may have the potential to cause harm to people and the environment. But the way science is done is often ill-equipped to address novel risks associated with emerging technologies. Research into understanding and preventing risk often has a low priority in the competitive worlds of intellectual property, research funding and technology development. And yet there is much at stake in how potential nano-specific risks are understood and managed. Without strategic and targeted risk research, people producing and using nanomaterials could develop unanticipated illness arising from their exposure; public confidence in nanotechnologies could be reduced through real or perceived dangers; and fears of litigation may make nanotechnologies less attractive to investors and the insurance industry....

Their suggestions:

1. Develop instruments to assess exposure to engineered nanomaterials in air and water, within the next 3–10 years.

2. Develop and validate methods to evaluate the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials, within the next 5–15 years.

3. Develop models for predicting the potential impact of engineered nanomaterials on the environment and human health, within the next 10 years.

4. Develop robust systems for evaluating the health and environmental impact of engineered nanomaterials over their entire life, within the next 5 years.

5. Develop strategic programmes that enable relevant risk-focused research, within the next 12 months.


It seems pretty obvious to me that none of these technologies should make it out of the laboratories without being thoroughly tested for safety. The time to test and regulate is NOT after the things have become integrated into the marketplace - but before.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Beyond Einstein Project

A description of the project can be found at the blog Science and Reason which I found by way of Galactic Interactions

From the NASA page - Beyond Einstein

The questions ->

What powered the Big Bang?

...NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite discovered the fluctuations and, most recently, NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has refined the measurement. We see how gravity has pulled these wrinkles into stars and planets. We can even determine the ratio the ratio of matter to energy, the era of first starlight, and the age of the Universe, 13.8 billion years.

What we don't know is the most basic fact: What started it all? Modern theoretical ideas that try to answer this question predict that the wrinkles COBE discovered arose from two kinds of primordial particles: from the energy field that powered the Big Bang; and gravitons, which are fundamental particles of space and time.

Clues to the nature of these particles exist in the Big Bang afterglow. Measurements from Beyond Einstein missions will coax information from this ancient light, which has held its secrets for so long. This would enable us to piece together the story of how time, space, and energy worked together to power the Big Bang.

What happens at the edge of a black hole?

...One key mission will create movies from the X-ray light emitted from multimillion-degree gas as it approaches a black hole's border, called the event horizon. Another mission will listen for gravitational waves, which are ripples in spacetime predicted by Einstein. These waves are created by black hole mergers; they move undisturbed across the "sea" of space at light speed, and offer an unobstructed view of these powerful collisions.

Einstein himself never dreamed that it would be possible to detect gravitational waves, which only distort the distance between objects as far apart as the Earth and Moon by less than the width of an atom. Yet the technology now exists to do so.

Data from X-ray satellites, such as NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton, show signs of gas whizzing about black holes at close to the speed of light and hint that time is slowing as the gas plunges into the zone from which escape is impossible. Beyond Einstein missions will take a census of black holes in the Universe and give detailed pictures of what happens to space and time at the edges of these gravitational chasms.

What is dark energy?

...Because Einstein originally thought the Universe was static, he conjectured that even the emptiest possible space, devoid of matter and radiation, might still have an energy countering gravity, which he called a "Cosmological Constant." When Edwin Hubble discovered the expansion of the Universe, Einstein rejected his own idea, calling it his greatest blunder.

But the Universe isn't just expanding; the expansion rate, which appears to have slowed several billion years ago, is revving up. We live in a runaway Universe, in which the most distant galaxies visible today will soon fly off forever beyond the horizon. This acceleration could be due to the concept that "empty space" isn't empty. Richard Feynman and others who developed the quantum theory of matter realized that empty space is filled with "virtual" particles continually forming and destroying themselves. These particles create a negative pressure that pulls space outward. No one, however, could predict this energy's magnitude.

Independent measurements reveal that dark energy comprises about 70% of the total mass-energy budget of the Universe. We still do not know whether or how the highly accelerated expansion in the early Universe, called inflation, and the current accelerated expansion, due to dark energy, are related. A Beyond Einstein mission will measure the expansion accurately enough to learn whether this energy is a constant property of empty space, as Einstein conjectured, or whether its strength varies over time, a property predicted by modern theories of the forces of nature.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Misc Ocean News

Melting continues in Arctic

Signs of warming continue in the Arctic with a decline in sea ice, an increase in shrubs growing on the tundra, and rising concerns about the Greenland ice sheet.

“There have been regional warming periods before. Now we’re seeing Arctic-wide changes,” James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said late last week.

For the last five years, it was at least one degree Celsius above average over the Arctic over the entire year, he noted.

The new “State of the Arctic” analysis, released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also reported an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-04....

Hands across the oceans

Ken Sherman, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, believes many factors contribute to the depletion of fishing stocks and has developed a scheme for managing the world’s oceans that has now been put in place around the world....

Also - interesting resource: UN Atlas of the Oceans


Notes from Nairobi

Climate conference settles on next steps to negotiate future emissions cuts

NAIROBI, Kenya: A U.N. conference on climate change has set a rough timetable for reaching a new agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, but some officials and activists warn that the world is still moving too slowly and selfishly in the fight against global warming.

China agreed Friday to a review of the Kyoto Protocol by 2008 — crucial toward setting new quotas on carbon dioxide and other emissions — but only after being assured it and other developing countries would remain exempt from mandatory cuts in the near future....

"The science tells us that we need faster and deeper political progress if we are to avoid the social, economic and humanitarian consequences of unchecked climate change," a joint statement said. "Every country has a part to play in the drive to prevent dangerous climate change."

The 1997 Kyoto pact obliges 35 industrial nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States rejects that accord, with U.S. President George W. Bush contending it would damage the U.S. economy and should have given poorer countries obligations as well....

"We have made progress and have reached agreements on all of the priorities for the conference," said Stavros Dimas, the European Union environment commissioner. But he added, "There is no time to waste. We must cut global emissions by 50 percent by the middle of the century."

Meanwhile, emissions by the United States, the world's biggest emitter, have grown by 16 percent since 1990. And China is expected to overtake the United States as the No. 1 carbon dioxide emitter before 2010, the International Energy Agency reports.

UN climate pact unlikely until after Bush--experts

This week's U.N. climate talks kept a plan for fighting global warming on track for expansion beyond 2012, but breakthroughs look unlikely before U.S. President George W. Bush steps down, experts said on Saturday.

"Everyone is waiting for the United States. I think the whole process will be on ice until 2009," when Bush's second term expires, said Paal Prestrud, head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

The United States is the biggest source of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, and Bush's decision to reject caps under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol discourages involvement by other big-polluting outsiders such as China and India.

After two weeks of talks, about 70 environment ministers in Nairobi agreed on Friday to a 2008 review of Kyoto as a possible prelude to deeper emission cuts by rich nations beyond 2012 and steps by developing countries to brake rising emissions.

They also agreed modest schemes to help Africa adapt to the feared effects of climate change such as drought, storms, disease and rising seas. Ministers agreed to promote green technologies, such as wind or solar power, in the poorest continent....

Several senior delegates at the U.N. talks say 2010 now looks the most likely date for a new global pact to replace Kyoto. "We'd love a deadline of 2008 or 2009 but that looks unlikely unless Bush has a change of heart," one said.

Environmentalists want a 2008 deadline. "Technically it's still not impossible," said Hans Verolme, climate director of the WWF conservation group. "The planet cannot wait."

More notes here and here

"Dutch bask in warmest autumn in three centuries"

The autumn of 2006 has been the warmest in the Netherlands for over 300 years, 12.5 percent hotter than the previous year which was already a record, meteorologists said.

"Beating the record by more than one degree centigrade, that is exceptional," the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said in a statement.

The average temperature for the months leading up to November 17 was up to 13.5 degrees (56 degrees F), as compared to 12 degrees last year, which was already the hottest autumn on record.

The average over the last three centuries for this period of the year has been 9.9 degrees.

At least three factors are responsible for the increased temperatures, the Institute said: global warming, winds from the south that have blown over the Netherlands more than in most years, and a slower cooling down after an exceptionally hot summer, especially in July.

Michele Bachelet

Michele Bachelet...president in Chile... appointed 50% of women in every level of government....

Acclaimed Chilean Novelist Isabel Allende on Michele Bachelet, Immigration and Chile as a "Country of Poets"
(From Democracy Now!)

ISABEL ALLENDE: Michele Bachelet is an extraordinary person, no matter that she’s a woman. It’s wonderful that we have a woman president in Chile for the first time. And what is even more wonderful is that she has come to the government and appointed 50% of women in every level of government. So when you see a photograph of the secretaries of state or any official photograph, the caption says, “Count the women,” because 50% are women. It’s the first time in history that female energy and male energy, in equal terms, are running a country. It’s the management of the country with this female energy. And I think that it’s an extraordinary experiment. And if it works, it will be imitated, and it will open up new spaces for peace and understanding in the world. (snip)

JUAN GONZALEZ: Isabel Allende, I’d like to ask you, getting back to a remark you made a few minutes ago about the changes in Chile and the genuine feminization of the infrastructure of the government, have you noticed the impact of that, in other words, in terms of types of policies that have been adopted that might not have been adopted in prior governments or even in other countries by overwhelmingly male leaderships?

ISABEL ALLENDE: Michele Bachelet has been accused of being weak, because her style is different from the male style. But to give you an example of something that has changed, 64% of the national budget goes to social programs. Can you imagine what the United States would be like if 64% of our budget would be for social programs?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Blighted Homeland"

This shows one reason why nuclear energy is not as "cheap" as some people think. Because we are not paying for the true costs. We are not paying for cleanup - or for people's healthcare (or life insurance for the survivors) when they get cancer from being around the radiation. We as a people are not as good at keeping everyone safe from the consequences as some would think. Mostly because it is not usually in the news.

(The water article from Monday - link below - was esp. tragic - as is the whole thing. The extreme poisoning combined with the complete lack of regard and accountability is staggering.)

A 4 part series running in the LA Times - starting today:

A peril that dwelt among the Navajos

Fifty years ago, cancer rates on the reservation were so low that a medical journal published an article titled "Cancer immunity in the Navajo."

Back then, the contamination of the tribal homeland was just beginning. Mining companies were digging into one of the world's richest uranium deposits, in a reservation spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb, and for the weapons stockpile built up during the arms race with the Soviet Union.

Private companies operated the mines, but the U.S. government was the sole customer. The boom lasted through the early '60s. As the Cold War threat gradually diminished over the next two decades, more than 1,000 mines and four processing mills on tribal land shut down.

The companies often left behind radioactive waste piles and open tunnels and pits. Few bothered to fence the properties or post warning signs. Federal inspectors seldom intervened.

Over the decades, Navajos inhaled radioactive dust from the waste piles, borne aloft by fierce desert winds.

They drank contaminated water from abandoned pit mines that filled with rain. They watered their herds there, then butchered the animals and ate the meat.

Their children dug caves in piles of mill tailings and played in the spent mines....

Today, there is no talk of cancer immunity in the Navajos.

The cancer death rate on the reservation — historically much lower than that of the general U.S. population — doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, according to Indian Health Service data. The overall U.S. cancer death rate declined slightly over the same period....

In every corner of the reservation, sandy mill tailings and chunks of ore, squared off nicely by blasting, were left unattended at old mines and mills, free for the taking. They were fashioned into bread ovens, cisterns, foundations, fireplaces, floors and walls.

Navajo families occupied radioactive dwellings for decades, unaware of the risks....

Just 200 miles from the reservation, in Grand Junction, Colo., residents faced the same situation. But there, the government was moving with urgency to eliminate the health risk posed by homes, schools and churches made with tailings from the Climax Uranium Co.

State health authorities had armed themselves with research and demanded federal action. The local congressman, Democrat Wayne N. Aspinall, was chairman of the House Interior Committee. He held hearings and helped secure funds for a thorough cleanup, which ultimately cost more than $500 million.

The Navajos had no such champion....


From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were dug and blasted from Navajo soil, nearly all of it for America's atomic arsenal. Navajos inhaled radioactive dust, drank contaminated water and built homes using rock from the mines and mills. Many of the dangers persist to this day. This four-part series examines the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo reservation.

SUNDAY: Unaware of the danger

A peril that dwelt among the Navajos

MONDAY: Toxic water

Oases in Navajo desert contained 'a witch's brew'

TUESDAY: Botched cleanup

Navajos' desert cleanup no more than a mirage

WEDNESDAY: New technology

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Boxer and Global Warming Hearings

I noticed on a discussion board - someone suggesting the dicotomy between people who tend to be concerned about the public good and those who are more concerned about private (& individual) rights. That the Democrats have become the party of the public good and the Repubicans that party of private rights. This is abundently clear with issues like global warming and the environment.

There have been Republicans who have been concerned for the environment - but these days - the Republicans are so keen on protecting industry and corporate interests - the private rights of the owners - that they have become anti-any-kind-of regulation-that protects-the public.

Heck - they won't admit that there is a problem. They leave it up to the corporations to do something or not. Mostly they don't.

One person was equating the Puritan, civic attitudes with concern for the public good and the Southern, Baptists (?) who are more interested in private rights. So like it's rather a continuation of the North/South split. And with the Bush elections - that is how the red and blue states were divided up.

I think with the global warming issue that the public good is going to have to win the day. It would be nice to think that individuals and corporations would all do what is best for the world as a whole - but I can't imagine anyone who really sees that as realistic. So now the Democrats have control of Congress - we'll see what they can do. (Of course most stuff would get vetoed - but there might be ways to get something done).

So anyway, this is good news for the public good - Boxer plans Senate hearings on global warming

The Democrats' coming takeover of Congress is expected to feel pressure for policy change on a number of fronts, from Iraq to taxes, but the starkest change may come at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will surrender the gavel to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Her appointment was announced Tuesday, but won't take effect until January.

Inhofe rejects a wide scientific consensus that human use of fossil fuels is largely responsible for catastrophic climate change, calling it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He's accused environmental activists of exploiting people's fears to raise money. And he's blocked legislation aimed at curbing global warming.

Boxer, in contrast, is a fiercely liberal environmental activist. She has railed against Inhofe, crusaded for cleaner drinking water and led wilderness protection efforts in her home state and for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spain Requires Solar/ Sweden Tops list

Spain requires new buildings use solar power

Solar panels are now compulsory on all new and renovated buildings in Spain as part of the country’s efforts to bring its building rules up to date and curb growing demand for energy, ministers said on Monday.

Until now Spain’s building standards have dated from the 1970s and have done little in seeking to improve energy efficiency.

“We have to make up the time we have lost,” Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said, inaugurating a seminar on the new technical building code.

The code will come into force fully next March but the energy saving element was implemented on Sept. 29.

This means new homes have to be equipped with solar panels to provide between 30 and 70 percent of their hot water, depending on where the building is located and on its expected water usage.

New non-residential buildings, such as shopping centers and hospitals, now have to have photovoltaic panels to generate a proportion of their electricity.

Solar power has not yet taken off in Spain, largely because subsidies have been directed at wind energy, and it provided a negligible amount of the country’s electricity in 2005.

Other measures in the new building code enforce the use of better insulation, improve the maintenance of heating and cooling systems and increase the use of natural light.

“The new standards will bring energy savings of 30 to 40 percent for each building and a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy consumption of 40 to 55 percent,” the Environment and Housing Ministries said in a joint statement.


Sweden doing most to fight global warming, Saudi Arabia the least

Sweden, Britain and Denmark top the list of countries doing the most to address global warming, while the United States, China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia rank as doing the least according to a new report released by environmental groups. Still, warns the report, even the best ranking countries are not doing enough to stave off climate change.

"If climate change protection were an Olympic Discipline, no country would make it to the medal ranks", said Matthias Duwe, Director of Climate Action Europe, one of the groups behind the 2007 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI).

The index, which ranks 56 countries that were part of a 1992 climate treaty or contribute at least 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, took into account emissions trends, emissions levels and climate policy...

The countries making up the index are responsible for 90 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Germanwatch, the environmental group that made the calculations for the index, the United States, the world's largest carbon dioxide polluter, emits 21.8 percent of global CO2 despite only having 4.6 percent of the world's population. The second largest CO2 emitter, China, has 17.9% of the world's share of carbon dioxide emissions but 20.5 percent of the population.

"...Rumsfeld gloating over ruins of Iraq"

I think it's difficult to paint one's anger. I like the use of symbolisms in this.

Iraqi artist paints Rumsfeld gloating over ruins of Iraq

Moayyed Mohsen likes to paint great figures from Iraq's past like the mythical hero Gilgamesh. But this year he turned his talents to another larger-than-life subject in his country's history -- Donald Rumsfeld.

Dominating the wall of a Baghdad art gallery in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah is a massive mural that is no tribute to the outgoing US defense secretary.

Rumsfeld is depicted leaning back reading papers, with combat-boot-clad feet propped up on a ruined building. Beside him is a weathered image of the Lion of Babylon -- potent symbol of Iraq's illustrious past -- atop a ruined plinth. The US official is surrounded by whirling bits of paper that morph into birds and fly off into the distance.

The artist's image is striking and it was conceived in anger -- not just over the occupation of Iraq but also over what Mohsen sees as the humiliation of a nation that once taught mankind how to write....

More than any other official, the controversial Rumsfeld came to symbolize the US intervention in Iraq as one of the main architects of the invasion and subsequent occupation.

His resignation on November 8 -- the first casualty of the Republican defeat in mid-term congressional elections last week -- met with almost universal acclaim across Iraq's divided communities, who seem to agree on little else than the situation in their war-ravaged country is getting worse by the day.

Many Iraqis feel the US defense secretary's handling of the war showed arrogance and disdain for their country -- tellingly symbolized by his famous quip that "stuff happens" when asked to comment on the looting of Baghdad, including its museum, in the invasion's aftermath.

Mohsen, who loves reading American magazines, said his model was a photograph he found of Rumsfeld. "The way he sat was very strange to us here in the East -- it is an insult to those around," he said.

In the Middle East, showing the soles of one's feet is considered very poor manners, so the Rumsfeld in the painting automatically offends the viewer.

The Lion of Babel atop a ruined perch sends another message.

"I decided to make the base of the statue a bookcase containing volumes on the arts, literature and knowledge left by Iraqis," he said. "Then I destroyed the base to symbolize the repeated wars and showed the papers flying through the air and changing into white birds showing love and peace to the world."

By juxtaposing his subject with ancient monuments, Mohsen sought to pit the endurance of history against the fleeting nature of man -- an apt visual statement, it turned out, in light of Rumsfeld's resignation....

"Sky is no longer sky..."

From the site of the Worldwatch Insitute

“In China, sky is no longer sky, ground is not ground, mountain is not mountain, and water is not water, because humans are no longer ‘human.’ Only one day, when we go back to our niche, does the environment have a hope to be improved.”

Quote by Xiaoyi Liao - the president of Global Village Environmental Education Center in Beijing

Monsanto in Mexico

Monsanto makes me sick just thinking about them.

Monsanto Stands Firm on GM Maize in Mexico

In 2005, some 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries planted genetically modified (GM) crops over 400 million hectares. Most of the transgenic seed was produced by Monsanto.

The corporation has been accused of pressuring and bribing government officials, of going after farmers who fail to pay royalties to Monsanto for seed production, of altering scientific reports, and even of having taken part in creating agent orange, the chemical weapon that became infamous during the Vietnam War (1964-1975).

The representative from Monsanto, a company that rarely grants press interviews, denies many of those charges, but does acknowledge that there was a case of bribery. Pérez announced that the firm does not plan to leave Mexico, despite the Vicente Fox government's ban on GM maize.

See link for interview.

"The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica"

This doesn't surprise me at all - but it's interesting anyway.

Antarctic Ice Core Reveals Climate Link with Greenland

...The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) has managed to look back to the future. Their analysis of the ice core drilled at the Kohnen Station has revealed a significant link between temperature variations in Greenland and Antarctica -- a mechanism that governs the oscillation between warm and cold phases in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. "We call it the bipolar seesaw", says Hubertus Fischer, a researcher at Germanys Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the main author of the new study.

His main concern was with the evidence of unusual climate change Greenland ice cores had revealed a few years ago. Temperatures during the last Ice Age, the cores revealed, had swung repeatedly up and down -- "by more than 10 degrees within a few decades," Fischer explains.

Scientists have long wondered if these enormous swings in temperature were only a regional phenomenon. This latest research now shows that they weren't. The 2,774 meter-long ice core the EPICA team finished extracting out of the Antarctic ice in February reveals a mirror image of the temperature changes in the Northern Hemisphere. "When it was warm in the north, the ocean surrounding Antarctica cooled down," says Fischer. "And vice versa: the Southern Hemisphere warmed up when it got colder in the north."

These temperature swings seem to be caused by the system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Acting like a giant conveyor belt it carries water from the southern pole to the tropics and from there on to Europe and Greenland. The northern extension is better known as the Gulf Stream.

The current varies in its flow -- sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. The analysis of the ice core now shows that two factors determine these fluctuations: On the one hand, precipitation and massive amounts of melt-water can weaken the stream. The influx of freshwater makes the water lighter; it doesn't rush as quickly into the depths in the region between Greenland and the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. "The result is that the conveyor belt slows down," says Fischer.

Some time later, however, it picks up again, and the impulse may come from the south. Initially, the weakened current causes the southern seas to become warmer. Eventually, after a time lag which could last up to a few hundred years, southern waters could increase in temperature by as much as 3 degrees Celsius, Fischer and his team have concluded based on their analysis of the ice core....

And the ice core contained another surprise for the researchers. The massive ice masses of the Antarctic are a lot less stable than had been thought up to now. When the team's drillmaster Frank Wilhelms bored deeper into the rock, water surged into the hole. "There is a bubbling brook underneath the ice crust," he reports.

The massive pressure of 250 bar is apparently causing the ice to melt -- even at the temperature of minus 2 degrees Celsius (28.4 degrees Fahrenheit). "We would have to assume that a considerable part of the Antarctic interior ice lies on top of this watery layer," the AWI scientist concludes.

The newly discovered north-south connection could definitely have consequences: "In particular Australia, South America and South Africa could experience even higher temperatures than we had previously thought," Fischer says.

My Pet Butterfly

I guess I should name her.

I was out in the yard on Friday - spreading around some milkweed seeds. And so I was down near the unmown field and noticed this butterfly flapping around.

Apparently her wings didn't get all the way unfolded - so she couldn't fly. She was having a heck of a time.

I'm figuring she couldn't have been out of her cocoon for very long - because she wouldn't be able to make it like that. Originally I had hoped that her wings could be in process of opening - but they haven't changed.

It seems very odd to me that a monarch would be emerging around November 10th anyway. She should have been down in Florida a month ago and over to Mexico by now. I figured our warm house could seem like Mexico more or less.

So she's living in a bucket. The neighbor's forsythia are blooming - in recent years they have been blooming in the Spring AND the FALL. So I got a couple of branches with flowers for her. So far she is doing alright - but I don't know how long it's going to last.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Uncle Tom's Cabin in History

Recently I read Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book was the most widely read book in the 19th century (after the Bible). There is a Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT. I like how she exposed the various bogus justifications the slave owners held at the time. And the way that she humanized the slaves.

I think it's unfortunate that the book was adapted into (against the author's wishes) a bunch of racist stuff - so that the character, Uncle Tom is commonly given a wholly different symbolism than what Stowe intended. In her book Tom stands up to his master and refuses to hurt other slaves. He is practically Christ-like. Now some will use the term "Uncle Tom" to mean 'traitor" - as if Tom betrayed other slaves (based on depictions in Minstrel shows and such) but that does not reflect the book. See: Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture Archive.

After I read it - I became more curious as to where the book fit into the scheme of things - leading up to the Civil War.

By 1835, people started petitioning Congress to end slavery.

In 1836, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, introduced the "gag rule" to end discussion about slavery in the House of Representatives. It was in force until 1844. The gag rule got people more riled up than ever.

The Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. This Act made it a crime for citizens of free states to help slaves who were running away. The Fugitive Slave Act was partly what inspired Stowe to write her book - her first novel.

From the Stowe Center website:

Uncle Tom's Cabin humanized slavery by telling the story of individuals and families. Harriet portrayed the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse endured by enslaved people....

The Civil War grew out of a mixture of causes including regional conflicts between North and South, economic trends, and humanitarian concerns for the welfare of enslaved people. This war, which pitted one section of the country against another, almost destroyed the United States. Uncle Tom's Cabin contributed to the outbreak of war because it brought the evils of slavery to the attention of Americans more vividly than any other book had done before. The book had a strong emotional appeal that moved and inspired people in a way that political speeches, tracts and newspapers accounts could not duplicate.

Through a column in a large New York newspaper, The Independent, she urged the women of the United States to use their influence against slavery by obtaining signatures on petitions, spreading information, and inviting lecturers to speak to community groups on the subject.

The book started coming out in serial form in 1851 and the book was published in 1852.

In 1856 - the US Supreme Court came out with the Dred Scott decision.

Scott was suing to be a free man based on his owner having taken him to a free state. Taney - the Supreme Court Justice argued that Scott did not have a right to sue - that he was not a citizen. His characterization of slaves - articulating the dehumanization of slaves on the part of "free" people - was not something that could be accepted. One excerpt:

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern; without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion." pg19

This would have been received all the worse - the way Taney characterized Slaves - after reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. Before - more Northerners might have turned a blind eye and figured that it was none of their affair. But the book followed by the Scott case - and whatever all else was going on at the time - were enough to convince people that the situation was intolerable. The book challenged people's ethics and religious values and their actions based on those values. It's no surprise that Stowe's father was a minister.

The people of the Southern States felt that the slavery issue had been resolved to their satisfaction when the US Constitution was written - figured that it was part of the contract that they agreed to in becoming States within the United States. And were mightily provoked when then it became an issue again some years later.

You can see from the South Caroline document that 1852 was a pivotal year - and the State considered seceding then. But they waited through the '52 election, and the '56 election and then when Lincoln was elected - that was it.

From the succession documents:
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina
from the Federal Union

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

...Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief...

Adopted December 24, 1860